OTTAWA — Canadian conservatives began their annual gathering Thursday in Ottawa, still smarting from the one-two punch of misconduct and mismanagement allegations echoing through the halls of power in Halifax, Toronto and on Parliament Hill.
When the organizers of the 10th Manning Networking Conference chose "a new generation of ideas and leadership" as their theme, it was a nod to years of churn inside the movement: a nail-biter finale to the federal leadership race, a finally-united right in Alberta with its own new leader and the anticipation of new bosses in Saskatchewan and B.C.
But then came #MeToo.
In just the last two weeks, sexual misconduct allegations forced the resignation of Ontario leader Patrick Brown and party president Rick Dykstra, tossing that party into a leadership race and organizational chaos just months before a potentially transformative election.
In Nova Scotia, PC leader Jamie Baillie left far sooner than expected after an investigation into allegations of inappropriate behaviour.
And then federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer launched his own investigation into the decision — which included predecessor Stephen Harper — to keep Dykstra on the ballot in 2015 despite the allegations against him.
Both Dykstra and Brown have denied the accusations, none of which have been tested in court nor independently confirmed by The Canadian Press.
The resulting bombshells didn't just upend the front and back rooms, but also sent Manning conference organizers scrambling to retool. Brown was supposed be a keynote speaker. Instead, the candidates vying to replace him at Queen's Park will replace him in Ottawa.
The "Me Too" movement, a social media tag that has prompted women around the world to go public with their stories of sexual harassment and assault, is not a partisan issue, conservatives are careful to stress.
Indeed, at the federal level, both the Liberals and the NDP are dealing with revelations within their ranks.
As a topic of discussion, it will have a place at the Manning conference, said Rachel Curran, Harper's former director of policy. She'll be moderating a panel on conservatism and feminism, initially conceived to explore how the party could broaden its appeal to female voters.
#MeToo changed that, she said.
"For so long, this has been the accepted culture in Ottawa," Curran said.
"There was no impetus to really change it, examine it, figure out a better way of making the Hill a safer place or a more welcoming place for young women — so the #MeToo movement has really shone a spotlight on that issue in particular.
"That certainly wasn't at forefront of our minds when we were putting this panel together, (but) I think it is now an opportunity to really look at that."
The Manning conference was conceived a decade ago by former Reform party leader Preston Manning, who wanted to create a forum for those in the conservative movement to be able to hash out policy ideas.
With conservatives in opposition in most of the country, the time is ripe for those conversations, said Tory MP Tony Clement, a veteran of both the Ontario and federal party.
"There's a lot of water that's gone under the bridge in the last few months and years," Clement said.
"It's the perfect time for movement conservatives to get back to basics, talk about fundamental principles, discuss future trends, all of those things I think are really important."
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press